Am I Technology’s Slave Whether I Like It (And I Do!) Or Not?

Let me start with Facebook as an example of a technology that people now consider optional. I know plenty of people who still don’t use it. Some never have, and a few eccentrics I know had Facebook accounts but gave them up. Will they always have that choice, or will Facebook, like various other technologies, someday become essentially a requirement for functioning in the world?

After attending and presenting a paper at a three-day conference this week at Baylor University called “Technology and Human Flourishing,” I’ve been pondering the ways in which technology runs my life. Even though the conference included many amazing examples of new things technology can do, the speakers expressed at least as much anxiety about technology as celebration of it. I want to devote a few posts to technology’s influence, both good and bad.

The first area I want to consider is how much Choice I have—or don’t have—about which technologies control me. I like to think I’m a careful consumer of technology and that I choose which gadgets and services will dominate my time, energy and attention. I like to think I am not a slave to it, but is freedom from slavery to technology realistic anymore?

When Technology Was Still Optional

In one sense, I have chosen each technological device and service I use, and I could get rid of them any time I like. Unlike people of a younger generation, I still remember living in a world before such advances as email, voice mail, cell phones, texting, the Internet, Facebook, ipods, VCR’s and similar inventions. I remember when computers were not considered a necessary tool in either the workplace or the home.

I also remember making the conscious choice to bring some of these technologies into my life. My standard response to new technology has been to resist it at first, insisting that I don’t need it and never will, and then to reluctantly embrace it. After that, I don’t see how I ever lived without it.

When I was first hired to teach at Azusa Pacific University in 1991, for instance, email existed but was not commonly used. The university did not have an email system of its own, so if you wanted it, you had to make your own arrangements. They didn’t even provide faculty members with computers. You had to make your own arrangements for those too. I resisted email for a couple years, telling people that I didn’t see why I needed it and didn’t think I ever would. If I wanted to write to someone, I reasoned, I could simply write them a note. Now, a little over 20 years later, much of my day is taken up with sending and receiving emails. My office phone rarely rings. My physical mailbox rarely has anything in it. Most communication for my life as a professor, a writer, and many other roles happens by email.

What If I Opt Out?

Do I still have the choice to either use email or not use it? If I gave it up, the consequences would be severe. I probably would lose my job because so much crucial information comes only in that form. I would also lose contact with my publisher, with organizations I am part of, and with many other people who are important to me. Essentially, I no longer have a choice about email. It is a necessity.

What about online activity in general? What if I decided I didn’t want to spend so much of my day looking at a computer screen and chose to not do anything online? Once again, the consequences of such a choice would be dire. Some of my online activities are still a choice—online banking, Facebook, news and entertainment sites. But other activities, including crucial ones for keeping my job, are required. I turn in grades online, submit evaluation documents online, order textbooks online, do academic advising online, and many other things. As a writer, much of my life also happens at a screen. So while I technically could choose to stay offline (just as I technically could choose never to wear clothes or never pay taxes or never live indoors), the costs would be enormous. I essentially am enslaved to these technologies that used to be optional.

Some might say, so what? These technologies are good things. Who cares if you’re enslaved to something as long as it’s good? I will reflect on that question in another post. In the meantime, I invite you to offer your own perspectives.

 

22 thoughts on “Am I Technology’s Slave Whether I Like It (And I Do!) Or Not?

  1. I think it’s interesting, Joe, that you are using a blog to reflect on your use of media. Is there any better format — past or present — that would disseminate your thoughts more quickly or thoroughly? The blog, like any other form of technology, is a tool. In and of itself, I don’t attach any ethical value to it. Social media can be a tool to create community or it can tear it apart depending on the intent of the user. I also don’t believe that the emergence of a new technology necessarily eliminates the old. For instance, when TV became prevalent in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the media critics quickly predicted the demise of radio. Instead, radio adapted and is now stronger that ever. Likewise, I don’t think the use of e-mail or blogging changes the intent of the written message. Certainly, the format is different: a back lit screen replaces paper. But thoughts and ideas expressed in a blog or in shorter formats on Facebook or Twitter have the potential to be better because the audience is immediate (and with it, accountability). Can these powerful tools be misused. Of course. Not everyone who writes or communicates in today’s multimedia world necessarily is motivated to advance the truth. But for those who are, I say let the ideas flow freely and clash often. Out of that clash, it seems to me, the truth will emerge.

  2. I agree mostly with the person who commented above. Technologies can be used in both good and bad ways, and it depends on the user. Globalization rapidly spreads populism throughout the globe through technologies, and this is one of the reasons why America is economically struggling right at this point. But then, when wasn’t human civilizations struggled with various different matters? We all are degenerated even from the beginning.
    The dissemination of technology also enables the people from different nations to approach Christianity more easily but at the same time anyone can derogate the religion easily by spreading anti-religious postings in the internet. Interestingly, some information in the internet about the religion possibly telling truths to people and this causes highly controversial debates to many traditional believers. Propagandas are everywhere in the internet in various forms whether they are cultural or intellectual. Secondly, invasion of privacy is severely committed by anonymous users of the internet, and it is quite absurd to watch those phenomena. I can look up easily anyone’s personal profile if I know a few things about the person but that does not give any information about the person. Oh, scary world.
    Every invention has both up and down side. Vise versa is possible, I think. It all depends on who uses the invention and how to use them. If one uses it right, then he or she will get the benefits from the invention, but if not then the person is singing himself to the slave contract. Internet is not bad if one uses it right. If I did not have it, then I would never get a chance to read other peoples thoughts from different nations whether they are good or bad.

  3. I definitely agree that technology have good and bad implications. I am currently writing a paper on the effects of computers on student education. I am amazed when I think of all the ways that computers are really important for education as well as the ways I feel it damages the hands on experience and learning that is so vital for students. I understand that many young people, myself included, are over stimulated by technology constantly. It is the moments while I am reading a novel, on a run or hike that i remember technology is not an absolute must for my life at all times. I think that having separation from technology actually can benefit our lives. For example, why can’t we just have a conversation with the person you are with instead of texting the whole time and half heart-edly commenting on their thoughts and ideas? I think that we need to take a step back (although not too far back as to loose our jobs or damage our grades) and realize that the non technological aspects of life are actually more enjoyable. This is an interesting topic and I think that it is definitely food for thought.

  4. Living in this generation we have adapted to completely rely on technology to accomplish even the simplest tasks throughout the day. I believe technology has many great aspects about it but I also think we tend to overuse it and sometimes we allow it to consume our lives. If we get too caught up in technology we might miss out on the real joy of life and also realize technology isn’t always as reliable as we make it out to be. More often than not I see people getting frustrated or upset because their cellphone or laptop isn’t working as fast as they would like it to so we resort to buying a brand new, more expensive, and “reliable” device. We live in a generation where once the latest device in technology comes out, everyone acts as if they can’t live without it. For instance, once the iPhone4 came out on the market, everyone was running around to be the first to get it. Then shortly after that, the iPhone4S came out and the previous iPhone suddenly wasn’t good enough. I think we need to step back and realize what the technology is actually for. We get too caught up in being the first on to have the latest gadget that we forget the main purpose of it. Technology has definitely made many tasks quicker and more convenient for everyone. The ability to send a chain message through e-mail to everyone in the classroom is much more efficient than personally sending out a letter through the mail. So without email or having a cell phone, one could easily be left out of the loop and fall back in the work assigned. Therefor, I believe technology is overall a must but we need to be careful not to misuse it.

  5. I, like many others in my generation, rely on the internet and its many facets each and every day. While I do remember a time when I didn’t have a Facebook, an iPhone or even my own computer I cannot recall a time in my life when I did not have in my household at least one form of technology. In respect to this fact, I am reminded how my younger cousins have their own iPads and while they are only four, they know how to find videos on YouTube and play Angry Birds, even before they know how to read. If I use technology as much as I do today, how much more will my cousins lives, who were introduced to these ideas practically before birth, be controlled by technology? This is the pace at which technology is overtaking our world. As I reflect on how much of my day relies on social networking, emailing, texting, FaceTiming or simply using the Internet I realize how pathetic our modern use of technology is, in some regards. While it is necessary for me to use email for school and work related information, I wonder sometimes; could I live without social media? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter; all keep me so up to date on my family and friends’ lives. Especially now that I am thousands of miles away from my family for school it is reassuring to know that I can hop on Facebook to see what my sister is up to, or send a quick text or email to my Mom or Dad if I am too busy to call. That makes me stop and wonder if I am really too busy to call or is it just the way I prioritize my life, based off technology, that influences the way I communicate? While there are definite needs that must be met through the internet such as work and school communication or homework necessities, there are times when face to face interaction or even a phone call is much more beneficial to not only our personal selves, but society as well. I do not think there will ever come a day when a search engine will give better advice than Mom or Dad, so hopefully our generation, and those to come, do not forget that.

  6. I am always reluctant to admit that I am a slave to anything, but I work in IT, so I know better than to say that I am not a slave to technology. There is rarely I time when I don’t have my cell phone, laptop, and some other electronic device in front of me, whether that be another computer, mobile device, or television. When I say that out loud, it sounds ridiculous! Why could I possibly need to have that many devices in front of me at once? Technically speaking, I do not, but the reality is that I am a college student who works in IT. I am required to type papers, submit assignments and participate in discussions online, communicate with fellow students and professors for class business. I need technology. I think what it comes down to, what truly defines our slavery to technology is what we do when we finish all the necessary technologically-based activities. At the end of the day, when all my homework is done, emails answered, work finished, it is good to know that I have the choice to close my laptop, put my phone on silent, and have a good old-fashioned conversation with my roommate, face to face. As in most things, moderation is the key. If, at the end of the day, we cannot turn off our electronics, then we are truly slaves to technology.

  7. This was a very interesting blog post to read. First, I have many times thought about what would happen if suddenly all technology failed. Computers no longer gained WWW access, cell phones would not get any signal, and all other current forms of communication via technology failed. The world would have no idea what to do. We all rely so heavily on technology for everything from communicating with others, to learning, to like you mentioned, banking, getting grades, finding our way around, and even for increasing our health.
    I have been doing my own research lately on technology in the scientific realm for senior seminar, and have been able to see the impact that scientific technology has on our culture. First, we can now cure cancer, prevent polio, influenza, measles, mumps, etc, we can replace hearts, and make the deaf hear. Most people would consider these all good advancements in technology. However, what happens when technology is used for abortions, for genetically choosing how you want your child to look, act or how you want their genes to be thereby creating “designer babies”, or for human enhancement? To me, these cases make me wish technology would take a step back and look at the implications it is having on society. What happens when technology is used as a means for poor ends, rather than as a means for increasing the greater good? It is frustrating to think that once the hypothetical technology ball starts rolling, there is no getting it to stop. Even if you did choose to opt out of it, what happens when you are the only one and you are left in the dust. For example, if everyone else in the world enhanced their children through genetic engineering and you didn’t, your child would be subjected to serious emotional and physical consequences as he or she grew up.
    Anyways, thank you for your post. Technology… Good and Bad, both at the same time.

  8. I very much value this post, Dr. Bentz. As someone who grew up amidst the many advances of technology, I originally was unable to see the negative toll these extrinsic “responsibilities” take on our lives.

    People call Facebook a great place for community. I hope that’s true for someone. But for everyone I know, it remains a vessel for bragging or complaining about thoughts and events otherwise unimportant. Before I deleted mine, I found myself logging in so as to “maintain my online image”- deleting posts from people, responding to messages (99% of which were unimportant or filled with gossip), denying event invites, denying application invites (my goodness, how bored must one be with oneself before they stoop to playing games on a social networking site?). Anyway, I realized that nothing productive came out of my LinkedIn account, or my Facebook. So I deleted them, and my life is so much the better. When I am on my deathbed, it is not posts on my Facebook wall I will remember, but where and with whom I have been, moments spent in communion with loved ones near, and a steaming drink in hand.

    The confusion lies in the definition. Many speak of the “incredible tool Facebook can be” or of the “power of the internet to transfer information.” But this is flawed. Facebook could potentially be an incredible tool – if it were not used as a dump for insignificant thought, gossip, advertisements, and general babble. The internet could be, and is an incredibly powerful tool for transferring information. But there is so much information that we do not need to know (I say this as someone who intakes information like an addict). If a tree falls in the forest, does the internet hear it? I have learned things through the internet that have caused me great stress. I’ve read of conspiracies, of lies, of slander, of sicknesses, of death, of cults I couldn’t have imagined existed. Never once has any of that information been put to practical use. Never, either, have I been thankful to know that my friend Ted has a cute kid or a new car. The internet remains a powerful tool, but it takes mastery with an intentional “mental-sieve” to weed through the information that is INTERESTING and arrive solely at the information that is IMPORTANT. The importance of information is relative to the learner’s ability to understand and/or positively impact the source of said information.

    Science shows that we can only have 52 close friends. Sometimes, I feel like it’s even fewer than that (in my own life).

    Significance is not to be found on the internet. Making a YouTube video that goes viral does not make one valuable. What is a 2:00 video, when our streets are littered with broken people, and our retirement centers are filled with men and women longing to hold someone’s hand, and our children’s hospitals are filled with children who try numbly to distract themselves from their pain and the reality of death by playing games, but who could truly be blessed if someone came and read a story to them- captured their minds and drew them into a magical world where leukemia did not exist?

    There is so much more to be said on this issue. I simply wanted to voice my little corner of this discussion, because I hate seeing so many people enslaved to an online image of themselves, or to information that they feel important knowing, but which really only renders them ineffective for whatever it is they are truly capable of doing.

  9. I want to thank all those who commented for their thought-provoking comments. You have covered the issues so well that I changed my mind about doing another post on this right now. I want to reflect some more, and since this is an ongoing area of interest for me, I want to read some more about it. I do think there is something lost and something gained with many of the new technologies, or at least with how they are commonly used. They have made me a different person than I was before, in both good and bad ways. How would I now be living my everyday life differently if some of these things had not come along? Would my life overall be more full and rich, or would it be impoverished? I will never know, of course. I’m not going back. I’m not giving up my iphone, or my blog, or even my Facebook page. I’m in too deep now. But sometimes, after several hours have gone by and I have barely looked up from the screen into which I am staring right this moment, I wonder…

  10. The difficult thing about technology, as you alluded to in your post, is that it is often a job requirement. I know that as an actor, spending time online is essential. In addition to having a facebook page to show what sort of acting I am doing at the moment, I also have to have a linkedin page to show who I am connected to in the professional acting world, so that casting directors know if I can be trusted. As if that were not enough connection to the internet, I also have create profiles for websites such as backstage.com, actorsacces.com, cazt.com, etc. If I am not connected to these websites, I am losing valuable information and casting notices (unless I have a manager or agent, in which case I would still have to use these sites in-between jobs).

    It is frustrating to me, because I have little desire to use these social networking, and job/casting notice websites so much; but I feel as though I have no way around it. Am I technologies slave? I believe so. Is it a good or a bad thing? Although I could find many arguments for both sides of the equation, in the end I find it to be a necessary thing.

  11. Technology is an interesting subject to discuss. I see so many people (unfortunately i am included in this) who are addicted to their phones and are constantly on them. I on several occasions have embarrassingly enough almost run into people because i was on my phone.
    I also think generational differences with technology are very interesting. My 80 year old grandparents just recieved iphones for their birthdays. It is very funny to see them texting and using their phones for email. I also think it is interesting how the little things that my generation picks up on their own about technology is a genuine struggle for the older generation.
    I used to like to believe that i wasn’t a slave to technology. However i think i have come to face the facts, that i am in fact a slave to technology.

  12. This is a thought provoking post that has made me do some self-reflection. Born in a generation that is much engulfed in technology, I cannot remember a time where I did not use technology in one way shape or form. In addition, I love technology, being someone who appreciates efficiency, I find new technology to be far more efficient than the previous technology or version of technology. For example, I remember putting aside my action figures after I was introduced to the Super Nintendo. Now my “play fighting” I was doing with my action figures are replaced with a far more efficient way to “play fight” on the screen. It did not take any cleaning up or much imagination on my end, the video game system did it for me. That was a silly example, but this way of thinking is how I approach new technology, if it is an upgrade over the previous technology, I will embrace it with open arms. Does this make me a slave to technology? Maybe it does, but I know that my life has become far more efficient with technology than it is without it.

  13. Personally, I think that technology truly has begun to overtake our world today. Without technology, I find that I am stuck on the outskirts of the community I live in. I look at what I use on a daily basis, with Facebook, email, instagram, texting, calling, etc…and without it, there seem to be no other options of communication. I question the ability of our world to communicate in person now that it has become so normal to communicate through technology and not face to face. I find that communication skills are lacking because everything is done on a screen. With that being said, I appreciate every hand written card, letter, note and response that I receive, because of how rare it is to have these. Just like you mentioned, my physical mailbox is typically empty because it is not normal for us to have physical mail. I rarely even check my mailbox because of this.
    This semester, I was working with 4th graders at an elementary school and I found that they are learning at such a young age to work with technology and not face to face. I had a journal entry writing assignment for them every time I saw them so that they were able to see the reflections of their heart in their own handwriting. With their responses, I was able to read and write back to them, and seeing how much they cherished even seeing my own handwriting shows the lack of experience students have with this. My hope for the future is that we can leave some of our technology behind when we are face to face, to challenge people to engage in fruitful conversations without hiding behind the cellphone or computer.

  14. Hi Dr. Bentz,

    You ponder in this blog whether “freedom from slavery to technology [is] realistic anymore.” I say it is, but you either, as you write, receive dire consequences, or you best start looking into the Amish life. Whether you are a student or professor, email is pretty much a necessity now. I believe students are told that they need to check their email at least once a day. Furthermore, I know you are a writer, and you can’t really make it as one if you are disconnected from the virtual world. No one pulls a Walt Whitman going door to door trying to sell their writing because it is simply not practical or profitable. People can choose to live technology free, but they then severely limit their career possibilities. However, I like to think that we are not slaves to email. We use it; it doesn’t use us. Nonetheless, if someone spends in exorbitant amount of time online, basically living their lives on the web, then they are indeed slaves to it. I, for one, am one of those eccentrics who gave up their Facebook. Do I miss it? For the most part, no. There were some interesting friends on there, including some APU profs, who wrote some interesting posts from time to time, but for the most part, it was a lot of people venting about work, school, and food. Frankly, I’d rather do other things, like reading your blog. Good post!

  15. This post was interesting to read. I am definitely dependent on technology. I was lucky enough to not be introduced to the addiction technology brings until middle school. However, children today are introduced at a much younger age. I have seen children in strollers with iPhones in their hands instead of a toy. Children spend countless hours playing video games or messing around online instead of getting outside or reading books. I know of schools that rent out iPads to their students. This is completely ridiculous to me. I still take notes with a pen and notepad. I try to limit myself to getting on Facebook only every couple of hours and checking my email when I am done with my school day. However, I am realizing how much more I NEED to check my email. Once I got an iPhone, I realized how much of a necessity it is to me. I am constantly using its many resources to contact professors, my boss, or just keep in touch with friends. Technology is a very powerful force. If I could stay away from it I would, however, I feel that at this point in my life, I am dependent on technology.

  16. I have been wanting to write about technology ever since I gave a speech on this topic in my Public Communication class. My cellphone got robbed when I was in Argentina in 2009 and I decided I didn’t need to replace it. I went without a phone for almost three years, and even when I moved here in 2010 I refused to buy one. In the beginning of 2012 I stage managed one of APU shows and my position required being able to contact cast and production team members so I decided to get one. I still have the phone but the truth is that I wish I wouldn’t. It seems to me that we humans have a common problem when it comes to balancing and giving things the deserving amount of time, resources and importance they should be given- no more, no less. I believe that the negative effects of phones on language, human interaction and manners (just to mention some), weight a lot more than the practical benefits of texting and dialing. On the other hand, as much as I would like to go back to my no-phone life, I realize that technology and digital communication are part of the 21st century and the contemporary society. Whether we like it or not, it is all around us and escaping from it can mean rejecting the natural course of history and its consequent changed.
    I think that as long as we are aware of the negative effects that abusing technology may have, and learn how to take advantage and make the best of these inventions, we will be able to find a good balance.

  17. I think that technology has become such a big part of everyone’s lives and is used everyday to do the most basic things like for example looking up directions on the GPS app on a phone, that not many think about its implications. I think that there are some types of technology that enslave us and some that do not. At the same time I think that technology enslaves different types of people. For example things like emailing and telephones might enslave someone who has a profession that involves constant communication with people from all over, such as a supervisor who oversees a certain branch of a bank. I don’t think that emailing and telephones would enslave someone who has a profession where immediate communication is not necessary, such as a farmer who harvests crops and sells them at local grocery or stores.

    I consider myself to be enslaved by technology because without it, I would not be able to keep up in school with all of my classes nor would I be able to immediately communicate with my family if I needed too. Essentially, I wouldn’t be able to function the way that I do now, which really impact my life in a negative way.

  18. Technology. I remember the time when my family bought our first computer and the internet connection was dial up. I remember the small Mac desktops the size of a cereal box and I would think, this is not sticking. And now I find myself lost in the screen which I am starring at now for hours on end. Five minutes becomes five hours. Technology is good and it has made life a lot easier and swifter but how much is enough. Do i need a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn? Maybe its not a matter of needing its a matter of becoming more productive and yes my Iphone and MacBook AIr help me, but at times shutting these off takes me back to that day in elementary school when the bright green letters against the black background of that cereal box Mac seemed better shut off and put away and my pencil and lined paper provided solace to the ideas I wanted to share.

  19. Slave might be a strong word for it as everything is still a choice but technology is most assuredly an essential part of communication now. I for one am glad I have a GPS as now I never get lost, well, not unless it takes too long to recalculate and I miss another turn that is. I love hearing that little beep letting me know I have a new text message. It is a visual reminder that someone is thinking of me. I value the written word so I am the kind to save and reread what people write especially if it is loving in some way. I also love how facebook has reconnected me with high school friends I would have otherwise never seen again. Sure it might only be a messaging friend but it is still a friendly face and a friendly hello that I value. But yes, there is no replacement for a voice and personal contact. I want to see, hear and touch the people I care for. It is not enough to just get a text message or email. If technology is used as a spice to enhance the flavor of life and relationships that is fantastic, bring it on, if it is used as a replacement for real relationships that is a problem for me.

  20. Technology is a double-edged sword. It has a way of being a slave-master, and a way of being a great facilitator. On the one hand, it simplifies so many aspects of our daily lives, and allows people to accomplish more and be better producers during the hours that they are awake.

    Take windows excel for example. To think that every accounting process used to be performed with pencil and paper! Now, because of technology, what used to take days if not weeks to complete, will take no more than a few hours.

    It also has allowed business and school operations to become relatively more paper-free, which is good for the envioronment.

    On the other hand, technology has a way of being a slave-master. It can be an enormous consumer/waster of time, time that could be put to better use elsewhere. It also undoubtedly contributs to obseity for those who are addicted to the television, online video games etc.

    Regardless, technology has made our lives easier in so many ways, and I am certainly fine with being a slave to it.

  21. Dr. Bentz,

    I found this post fascinating, thoughtful, and extremely accurate in its description of the function an role of technology today.

    Last Spring, I attended the High Sierra semester, and for the first time in my life I found myself desiring to spend less time with technology online than with people. I honestly feel that this was only possible because of the lifestyle of living in intentional community where people are more focused on deepening relationships in person than they are with maintaining old connections with friends from previous seasons of life. I have often lamented this semester that technology–particularly facebook–are a necessity to student leadership at APU, and even academics as many study groups and conversations are shared via messaging and group pages. It is an unfortunate reality, but at least during my time at APU, Facebook is an incredibly frustrating necessity in my life.

    I have hope that as we continue to see the ramifications of technology, there will be a renewed understanding of why it is far more important to value the physical and present than the world of virtual communication and appearances.

    Thank you for your thoughts!

  22. As someone born in the age of technology I can’t say I like it. I constantly wish I didn’t need a computer or a phone. I had no facebook for the longest time. People constantly complained about this. I eventually gave into my families complaints and got a facebook. REGRET. Oh man, nothing wastes time like facebook but people hate it when you don’t have one. My mom loves stalking all her far away children . If my brothers or I tell her about a friend or an interest she suddenly has pulled them up online and is psychoanalyzing their “likes”. It is so strange. Facebook connects us but in such a shallow format. But at the same time I have managed to stay well connected with some of my best friends through facebook and email. I suppose those are the moments when it becomes worthwhile and I just have to put up with who Ashley or Kyle is dating this week and why they decided it was appropriate to put up a picture of themselves kissing. As for phones and email I cannot seem to dismiss them due to how important it is for work, family, and professors to get a hold of me. Technology is here to stay, but I don’t think I will ever stop hating it.

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